Steel String Brewery’s spinoff venue and brewing site is one of the community’s newest gathering spots
By Megan Tillotson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Growing up with two uncles who were homebrewers, Eric Knight was immersed in the beer industry early on. He always knew he wanted to create a community spot that was “welcoming, warm and casual.” When Eric and his three friends decided to launch Steel String Brewery in Carrboro in April 2013, they sought to create a local space for people to come and enjoy brews and good company.
Dubbed “Hoopla Czar,” Eric’s role ranges from event planning to management of their recent addition, Pluck Farm. Partner and co-owner Andrew Scharfenberg, the “Logistics Czar,” runs most of the back-of-house business. And the one in charge of the famous brews? That’s the “Brewing Czar” and co-owner Will Isley. (Their fourth friend and “Financial Czar” Cody Maltais left the business about a year after opening the brewery).
“For me, I was interested in creating a local community spot that is a meaningful place for people to meet up and connect with [one] another,” Eric says. “[We wanted to] be involved in growing a local music scene, and we wanted a nice, low-key but comfortable place for all sorts of different people to come together.”
The trio created yet another gathering place in May 2021 when they opened Pluck Farm. Located on the western edge of Orange County off N.C. 54, 11 miles west of the Carrboro brewery, the farm spans 37 acres. It features a pasture area home to a beer garden and flower gardens – where they also grow hops, grapes and herbs – a pond, a 13-hole disc golf course and a wooded area currently in development for a walking trail system. They purchased the land in early 2019, when they reached out to Orange County Economic Development and made a proposal to purchase the majority of the land and sell the county what they needed for an Orange County entrance to the Mountains-to-Sea trail.
At any one time, there are typically 15 beers available at the taproom and 10 to 12 at the farm on tap or in cans. Since moving the brewing operations from Carrboro to the farm, throughout the course of the year Steel String produces 40 to 50 different brews. Inspiration for new flavors, Eric says, often comes from local agriculture and products. “We do a beer called the Beachmania, and it’s inspired by a dessert called the Atlantic Beach Pie that was invented by Bill Smith, who was the Crook’s Corner chef for a long time,” Eric says. The seasonal brews are just as popular, like their No Quarter Coffee Stout that features flavors from Carrboro Coffee Roasters coffee.
Keeping it local is important to the team, Eric emphasizes. Each Saturday, Pluck Farm holds a farmers market, inviting local growers like Cane Creek Farm and Haw River Mushrooms to set up a booth. They also partner with hunger relief organizations like TABLE, PORCH and Farmer Foodshare to give back to the community through profit-sharing nights. “We pride ourselves on being good neighbors to folks and trying to be as locally involved as possible,” Eric says.
Open Friday through Sunday, Pluck Farm welcomes all ages and four-legged friends. “I’ve found on an average Saturday, there’s probably 25 children and 10 dogs,” Eric says. “It’s been a really great space for [people] to bring their kids to. Parents can enjoy a beer and food from a food truck, talk to the adults and let their kids play safely.”
Food trucks like Pork in the Road and The Tasty Turkey-Cue are often parked at the farm, and customers like Theo Kassebaum enjoy them as a complement to a favorite brew. “I started going to Steel String [in Carrboro] in the summer of 2020,” Theo says. “As far as Pluck Farm goes, the outdoor space is lovely, and I always look forward to seeing what food trucks will be around on the weekend!” As a graduate student at UNC, she finds it a great place to be productive in the afternoons and evenings or just spend time with family and friends.
For the future of Steel String and Pluck Farm, Eric says he and the team are working to settle in, with production expanding from 800 barrels a year to roughly 1,200 barrels since brewing moved to Pluck Farm. “We’re definitely focusing on the everyday experience and want [Pluck Farm] to be a relaxing place where people know they can come and share a beer with a friend, get food truck food and just sit on a picnic table in a beautiful space,” he says. CHM